Original piece by Francesco Rio, for Ubitennis.com
1960 – Rod Laver b. Neale Fraser 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6, 8-6
Back in 1960 the Australian Open were still called Australian Championships. All players participating were from Australian nationality – all but South African Trevor Fancutt – and to take the spotlight was 22-year old Rod Laver. The win at the Australian Open remains the first greatest win for one of the all-time greatest. The grass in Australia perfectly suited Rod’s attacking game and supreme power at the net. Seeded at No.3, Laver first beat 2nd seed Roy Emerson in the semis, then won against expert Fraser in the final. Fraser won the first two sets quite comfortably, until Laver managed to break his opponent’s serve for the first time in the third set. From that moment on the match turned around and Rod entered tennis history.
1965 – Roy Emerson b. Fred Stolle 7-9, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-1
Five years after Rod Laver, Roy Emerson put together another stunning comeback in the finals of the Australian Open. Seeded No.1, Emerson had beaten John Newcombe in the semifinals in three sets. In the last act of the tournament he managed to come back from 2 sets down, winning against No.2 seed Fred Stolle. It was Roy’s 4th title at the Australian Open, surely the most intense and emotional triumph.
1988 – Mats Wilander b. Pat Cash 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6
After losing 12 months before in the final to Stefan Edberg in Australia, Pat Cash was determined to take the title home the following year. Another Swede though, broke Pat’s dream. Mats Wilander had already won the AO title in 1983 and 1984 and surely knew how to conquer the Australian heat. The two battled for 4 hours and 28 minutes, the longest ever before Djokovic and Nadal in 2012. It was Mats’s 5th Grand Slam title, the first conquered on hard courts. For Cash, champion in 1987 at Wimbledon, that became the second defeat in a major final.
1991 – Boris Becker b. Omar Camporese 7-6, 7-6, 0-6, 4-6, 14-12
Back in 1991 Boris Becker arrived in Australia having already won 4 Grand Slam titles and finishing runner-up the year before at Wimbledon. Boris faced 22-year-old from Bologna, Italy, Omar Camporese in an incredible third round match. After 5 hours and 11 minutes, Boris managed to win the match. The German would then end up winning the title beating Ivan Lendl in the final. The match remains one of Italy’s all-time highest moments at the Australian Open.
1995 – Andre Agassi b. Pete Sampras 4-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-4
The final in 1995 put one against the other the two best players of the World at the time. No.1 Pete Sampras vs. No.2 Andre Agassi. Pete had to fight hard to reach the last act in Melbourne. Agassi had to come back from two sets down in the 4th round against Magnus Larsson and then again in the quarter-finals against compatriot Jim Courier. Agassi had a much easier path to the final, without dropping a set. After losing the first set, Agassi just played one of the best matches of his career, becoming unbeatable on court that day.
2003 – Andy Roddick b. Younes El Aynaoui 4-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 21-19
Quarters-final match between 9th seed Roddick and 18th seed El Aynaoui. What was supposed to be an easy match for the American turned out to be a 4 hours and 59 minutes battle, an 83-game match. The quality of the match was stellar.
2005 – Marat Safin b. Roger Federer 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 9-7
After conquering 3 Slams in 2004, Roger Federer was already being pointed out to be the next great thing ever seen in tennis. At the Australian Open in 2005 the Swiss was the obvious favourite and defending champion. Safin had lost in the final to Federer in Melbourne the year before in his comeback tournament, after falling down in the rankings. The 2000 US Open champion played a superb match, impeccable on his backhand, to take the win and conquer his second Grand Slam title two days after, beatin Lleyton Hewitt in the final. Probably one of Safin’s all-time best performances.
2009 – Rafael Nadal b. Roger Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2
After playing what was defined as the best match in tennis history in 2008 in the finals at Wimbledon, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal met again in a Grand Slam final, this time in Melbourne. Beating the Swiss after a tough start, Nadal won his first and so far only title at the Australian Open, to then complete the career Grand Slam one year after winning the US Open. The match went down to history also for Federer’s tearful speech after losing the final and seeing Rod Laver hand the trophy to his historic rival.
2012 – Novak Djokovic b. Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5
The longest final in the history of the tournament. Almost six hours of impeccable baseline battle. The Serb came to the final after finishing an incredible 2011 season with 3 Grand Slam titles, and having wont the title in Australia twice already in 2008 and 2011. In the longest match in the two’s rivalry, Djokovic came out on top. At the end of the marathon match, the two could hardly stand still during the trophy presentation.
2014 – Stan Wawrinka b. Novak Djokovic 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7
One of the most memorable quarter-finals ever witnessed at the Australian Open. That year Stan Wawrinka exited the shadow of fellow countryman Federer to move on and take the spotlight all for himself. In an incredible 4-hour marathon, Stan didn’t stop playing at his best on his one-handed backhand and ended up beating the Serb in five sets. The two best backhands on the tour facing one another. Few days after, Wawrinka celebrated his first ever Grand Slam singles title, beating Rafael Nadal to finish as champion of Melbourne Park. The name “Stanimal” was born.
A Rude And Silly Reply From Nadal, I Am Waiting For His Apology
I asked Nadal an innocent question about his wedding; he took it so badly that he eventually burst into an offensive: “That’s bullshit”
LONDON – I was really surprised by Rafael Nadal’s reaction to a question that was quite innocent and totally legitimate. A reaction I consider unbecoming of him, rude and silly. I sincerely hope he will extend his apology for this behaviour. Respect remains paramount, no matter if you are the greatest champion or the new kid on the block. In front of everybody, Rafa disrespected me.
I hadn’t seen him since the Laver Cup in Geneva. And in the meantime,… he had gotten married. I had no intention whatsoever to ask a particularly original question or, as I have seen written in some tweets, to “show off”. And I certainly didn’t want to provoke him. Maybe the question did not come out the way I wanted: we always need to be concise during press conferences, and you cannot explain all the details, but what I wanted to ask was simply for him to explain whether the days around his wedding day had been emotional, different from the normal routine made of trainings, forehands and backhands. That’s all, no malicious innuendos, no desire to be irritating or original. I was just curious about what I considered a special moment in his life. Getting married is usually not like taking a walk in the park, even when it is possible to rely on a full team taking care of the arrangements – I assume that was the case for him – and there aren’t many details you have to worry about.
I am sorry I am forced to report such an ill-advised behaviour by Rafa Nadal of all people. He is a champion and, before that, a young man I have always appreciated, with whom I have had a good relationship ever since I saw him play for the first time in Montecarlo. He was just 17 years old, and one night he finished his match against Albert Costa very late, playing under the floodlights, in front of a scattered crowd, when most reporters had already left the Country Club to attend the traditional soirèe the tournament organizes every year at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club, next to the Jimmy’z.
This is the video footage of our exchange at the end of his English-language press conference, before the question time reserved for the Spanish press. Our dialogue starts at 10:50.
In essence, I asked Rafa if by any chance his wedding had been a disrupting element, albeit solemnly important, to his routine. This is the transcript of our interaction, with my notes in brackets.
Q. Tonight you were playing very short many times. I don’t know why, because you’re not used to that. I’d like to know, for many people to get married is a very important distracted thing (in the life of a man and a woman, it was implied) before the marriage, during the marriage, after the marriage. I’d like to know if somehow your concentration on tennis life has been a bit different even if you were going out with the same girl for many, many years (I was implying that it wasn’t love at first sight, I understand it didn’t turn his life upside down, but it still could have had some distracting effect, with the King of Spain being present and all… It wasn’t a small family wedding)
RAFAEL NADAL: Honestly, are you asking me this? Is a serious question or is a joke? Is it serious?
Q. It’s serious. (Off microphone.) Is not something that happens every day (at that point I had no microphone any longer so my retort was not captured by the official transcript), you can experience strong emotions, your parents, your wife, yourself…
RAFAEL NADAL: Okay. I surprise, is a big surprise for me you ask me this after I have been with the same girl for 15 years and having a very stable and normal life.
Doesn’t matter if you put a ring on your finger or not. In my personal way, I am a very normal guy.
Maybe for you was (did he want to add ‘different’) — how many years you have been with your…
Q. Wife 30 years this year.
RAFAEL NADAL: And before?
Q. (off microphone) 5 years
RAFAEL NADAL: Ah, maybe before you were not sure. That’s why (he smiles to the rest of the press room and he adds). Okay. Okay. We move to Spanish, because that’s bullshit. Thank you very much.
Unfortunately, due to some background chatter in the interview room I didn’t hear the “bullshit” word, I just read it on the transcript after a few colleagues made me notice he disrespected me. In fact, as soon as I went back to the press room, all colleagues, French, Swiss, even Spanish expressed their support to me because my question was perfectly legitimate, it was not engaging, mean, embarrassing or indelicate. So much so that when Rafa asked me whether it was a joke or a serious question, I immediately replied “It’s serious”. I was surprised he even had to ask.
The fact that Rafa has been together with Cisca, Francisca, Maria Francisca or Mer for 15 years does not imply that the days around his wedding, with 300 guests, friends, the King of Spain Juan Carlos ans other sporting legends were just like a walk in the park. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whether Rafa’s parents, or Meri’s parents or some of their close friends cried, were moved to tears, experienced all those emotions that are normally coupled with weddings.
If Rafa did not experience any emotions just because he has been with the same woman for 15 years, that’s his problem. As far as I am concerned, maybe I’m just more romantic, or softer, but I thought it would be normal to get emotional in tying the knot with the woman of your life in front of so many people; an important, unforgettable moment. People usually live that day as a very special day. Rafa does not hold back expressing his emotions when he wins an important point on court – over and above his “vamos”, his jumps and his fist pumps – if his wedding day was a routine experience for him, but just the formalization of his union by exchanging rings with his fiancée… well, I am sorry for him. I don’t know what Xisca thinks about it. Judging from Rafa’s response, there should be no enthusiasm or emotion capable to upset his routine, when getting married after having been with the same woman for 15 years. He was even surprised when someone, like myself, asked him about possible emotions on his wedding day. I am stunned. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, but I feel I should point this out because of the way he treated me.
To put it simply, I could not believe that even after dating the same woman for 15 years, the day before the wedding could be completely routine, without any emotional involvement. This is why I asked the question, without thinking it could be misinterpreted, or considered a joke, even less labeled as ‘bullshit’.
Perhaps Rafa was nervous because he had just lost a match (6-2, 6-4 without ever getting a break point) against an opponent he had always defeated before, Alexander Zverev. This could partially justify his behaviour, but he had not given any signs of nerves during the previous questions. I have always considered him an intelligent person. But sometimes even intelligent people make mistakes or say silly things. But they apologise afterwards. I hope Rafa is going to do it, sooner or later. If he won’t, never mind. But he will not make a very good impression to me or to all my colleagues, including the Spanish reporters from Puntodebreak and Eurosport who came to talk to me immediately after the incident.
I want to stress once again that my curiosity about how he may have reacted to an important moment in his life that I didn’t believe could be seen as a mere formality, was entirely innocent. He didn’t understand it, I hope someone will explain him, even if this for sure will not be an important moment in his life. Even if, in some way, we have been knowing and seeing each other for 15 years.
Article originally published in Italian on ubitennis.com
NOTE TO OUR READERS – In reference to the exchange occurred between myself and Rafael Nadal during the press conference following his first match, I have had a clarifying meeting after his win against Medvedev. We both have acknowledged the reasons that led to the misunderstanding and the subsequent exchange of unpleasant words, mainly due to our imperfect knowledge of the English language. This is it. We’ll turn the page, for everyone’s satisfaction, and Nadal and I maintain the mutual respect that has always been a cornerstone of our relationship. Our readers are naturally free to form their own opinion on this event, but at this stage any further comment would appear unnecessary. Thank you for your attention. (Ubaldo Scanagatta)
Modern Tennis: Evolution Of A Game
It’s a well-known fact that every single thing goes into renovation and re-shaping as we move on, sports are, certainly, included in this category that undergoes usually, from time to time, new adjustments and modifications that are probably attributed to two main reasons; to cope with the contemporary trend, particularly, among young people and other commercial aspects like promoting it to a broader population of fans. Tennis is one of a few sports that has retained most of its rules and traditions until the moment, however, introducing some little changes in the game could serve the sport better, make it more interesting for people got already bored of it, even more appealing for new audience, and most importantly more optimum and safer for the players.
We will get through some of the new technological and technical innovations that have been introduced into the Next Generation ATP Finals over the three editions of the tournament and expose its pros and cons.
The format of the tournament, since its emerging in 2017, has been quite different with the objective of attracting more fans by making matches quicker and have more exciting moments in less amount of time.
The most fundamental part of the new format has been the number of games per set, which became four games a set instead of 6 with a Tie-Break at 3-All, and No-Ad scoring. The shorter set has been compensated for with the matches being best-of-five sets so that a player needs to win 12 games to win a match. The introduction of such a new format has obviously increased the intensity of the matches by speeding up the pace of every rally, so that after every changeover you will definitely not witness more than 14 points thanks to the No-Ad scoring role, which means also more break points.
The No-Ad scoring role, similar to that in doubles competition in the standards ATP tour, means that when it’s tied at deuce (40-All), the next point is considered the deciding point and regarding serving either in the deuce or advantage courts, in 2018 edition it was the receiver’s choice, while in 2019 it’s up to the server player.
I think that these modifications on the traditional format have brought much dynamics and speed, as you can see that everything is pretty quick that needs the players to exert little physical efforts on each point which eventually helps them comply much easier to the shot clock and most probably that would impress a lots of fans amongst young ones, and would be appreciated as well by most people having a real busy schedule.
However, players have to adapt to this new format in terms of mental alertness and tactics, because everything is going very fast and if one player lost his concentration for a moment or two on his service game, with the No-Ad scoring rule, that could cost him the set which would ruin his whole match even with considering that it’s a best-of-five sets match.
The innovations, at the Next Generation ATP Finals, haven’t been only technical but also included new cutting-edge technological services that would not only help ease the calls on points but also give the players and their chosen coaches reliable data and physical measures about their own performance and workload after each match that would assist them on evaluating their plans and training strategies.
The usage of the very innovative Live Electronic Line Calling system has so many remarkable merits, as it really helps eliminating human’s errors, yet not absolutely eliminating errors as sometimes the machine doesn’t work in very rare cases, that’s why in close callings players have the right to watch a video review to get assured of the call. In addition, this contributes a lot to shorten the average time taken between points as the calls are usually clear and need no more evaluation from the umpire or the players. Another major advantage for such system installation is that now players don’t have to challenge calls they are having doubts over, for instance a player could’ve used all their challenges and they can no longer challenge the call despite having the call wrong, that would never be encountered with this innovative system.
The third edition of the Next Generation ATP Finals also features an unprecedented technology available on ATP, in which players are allowed to use wearable devices that would measure velocity and direction, acceleration and force, rotation, body orientation, and will quantify internal load (through heart rate). The data collected would be available after matches for the players and their coaches for further assessing the key elements of their game.
All these previous innovations and rule modifications cannot be seen, generally, to be compromising the core of the traditions of tennis, however, there is a one rule introduced at the Next Gen ATP Finals that shows a lot of controversy over if it’s affecting the core of the game or not, it’s the In-Match Player Coaching via head-sets. According to this rule, a player can communicate with his coach during a match at certain points, similar to what’s happening in the WTA, however the coaches aren’t permitted to come on court.
Some top players have had their say about that topic. While some backed the very new feature, others thought it doesn’t belong to the world of tennis.
“I’m not all for it, I find it kind of cool that in tennis, you know, you’re sort of on your own out there. Not everybody has the same amount of resources for coaching, as well. So I’m not sure if it’s that beneficial.” Argued 20-time Grand Slam Champion Roger Federer.
Federer’s long term rival Novak Djokovic had another thought about the In-Match Coaching, thinking that tennis should be like most of the other sports in this aspect of the game.
“When the WTA introduced on-court coaching, many ATP players were not really positive about it. I thought it was a good move for the sport. I mean, we’re probably one of the only, maybe [the] only global sport that doesn’t use coaching during the play. Even golf, individual sport, you have caddies that you communicate with throughout the entire course.” Said Djokovic.
One way of thinking is that tennis is based on playing individually in the first place, of course, players do put strategies and tactics with their coaching teams but when they get to the court, it’s all theirs, not only physically but also mentally, that’s why some players hire psychotherapist. On the other hand, some players might have some mental weaknesses and such an opportunity could deal with this problem during the match, and at the same time the other player would be offered the same opportunity so it’s fair after all.
I think people should keep watching closely this controversial very new rule being introduced to the world of tennis at the editions of the Next Gen ATP Finals and its effect on the players, then they can conclude whether it would affect the game in a positive or negative manner.
To conclude, every single sport has to keep up to date with the advancements taking place and the common tends, yet never to change its roots that it’s already been built upon. With most of the innovations that have been introduced to the Next Gen tournament, I think there is a great combination between cutting-edge technology represented on facilitate officiating and giving useful information for the players about their game, and optimizing some rules that wouldn’t necessarily compromise the origin of tennis.
Laver Cup: As Europe’s blue reign, myriad hues peek out in event’s latest iteration
The 2019 Laver Cup showed all over again why it was an opportunity for tennis to be diverse in its offering.
Twelve matches spread over a three-day weekend later, Laver Cup has modified the proverbial face and scope of men’s tennis. It is still viewed sceptically as a disruptor to routine, individual-focused tennis matches in certain pockets. Yet, the singularity it has brought into the midst of the prevalent concept of individuality is irrevocable.
In the third year of the event’s emergence, these aspects are repetitive. However, Laver Cup’s display re-lit the theme of a team before a player. It also elevated it to heights not seen in its previous two editions. This showed in the players’ camaraderie with each other. As it did in the numerous coaching tips that came from the bench from Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and even Nick Kyrgios towards their fellow squad members.
Broadly, it was laid out in how the Laver Cup changed the subject from who would win the most Slams to which part of the globe would be victorious. For once, the conversation did not focus on 20 Slams versus 19, as it had come to be after Nadal’s win at the US Open. It was riveted on how two sportsmen with 39 Slams between them could set aside their competitiveness towards a common goal for a still-mushrooming tourney.
— Laver Cup (@LaverCup) September 22, 2019
“Winning (as) teams is just amazing because you celebrate together. It’s a very special thing. Honestly, I really hope that this new and young generation keeps supporting this event because this event is special,” Nadal said after Team Europe’s three-peat on Sunday. “We need to make this event stronger and stronger because the atmosphere that we leave here is difficult to find in other places.”
The 33-year-old’s statements, aside from setting aside any cynicism about his involvement in the event this year, emphasised the growth Laver Cup has had in its three years. Nadal’s participation in Laver Cup’s inaugural year was seen as a novelty, a continuation of his and Federer’s triumphant return to the Tour after an injury-troubled 2016. Novak Djokovic’s inclusion in Europe’s 2018 squad was viewed as a reiteration that the event was a fad, where top-ranked players would make a one-off appearance, before stepping away.
In 2019, the 12-time French Open champion’s return contradicted this previously-held supposition. This shifting of perceptions is why Laver Cup has turned problematic to the Tour’s other mainstay events.
If Laver Cup were to be regarded as merely an exhibition, a tournament with no relevance to how the ATP tour progressed year-on-year with its usual clanking schedule, all of the players’ emotiveness and reactions would have been on par with the idea of livening it up for its sake.
On the other hand, when two former world no. 1s were heard sternly telling their touted successor not to be negative for the rest of his match, it was hard to convince that the whole atmosphere was made-up.
Though, it does bear noting that not being put-on and the ease with which it has been assimilated in tennis’ mainstay have been the catalysts for Laver Cup’s disparaging mooting in certain circles.
The past weekend it coincided with a couple of ATP tournaments, in St. Petersburg and Metz. Both events had several interesting match-ups of their own. Followers deeply vested in the sport knew the happenings across all tournaments held last week. But for casual viewers, it would have come down to picking one event over the rest.
The factoring in of this unnecessary chasm added to the enervation around tennis by making one take sides in a sport that is already at crossroads, without Laver Cup even being mentioned.
Yet, if it were about inclusivity, selectivity in audiences’ preferences is the other side of tennis’ coin. These choices cannot always remain aligned, even in accepting or discarding the tri-day tournament as a consequential pursuit. As Nadal opined, when asked to compare between his other title wins and his Laver Cup team win, “…every single thing is different and is important by itself.”
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